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Facebook algorithms reportedly pushed unsubstantiated rumors about white van abductions

Tony Markovich

Throughout the past few weeks, posts warning friends, family and readers about the dangers of suspicious white vans (the vehicle, not the shoe) have been circulating Facebook and various social media sites. The posts, many of which come with photos or video, warn of instances of these vans used for the purposes of abductions, sex trafficking and, in some extreme instances, selling body parts. Although it is a great idea to always be on high alert, the posts have a major issue: none of the claims have been proven, according to a report from CNN, and social algorithms have thrust the rumors to dangerous levels.

Viral social media posts can be great for memes, but they can also quickly create widespread paranoia. The biggest example of how these types of social media posts can shape the way people think without having hard, credible sources was displayed by Baltimore Mayor Jack Young. Young issued a warning to Baltimore that he's seen reports of people in white vans "trying to snatch up young girls," but according to WBAL, Young had only seen the posts on Facebook and did not receive any information from the police. 

According to Newsweek, a spokesperson for Young relayed that the mayor was simply encouraging people to provide law enforcement with as much information as possible about potentially suspicious situations. 

"The mayor has consistently talked about the need for citizens when they know of a possible law enforcement issue to share that information with police," said the spokesperson. "Information, no matter how much on its face may seem implausible, is still information that needs to be shared with the authorities. So, that's what he did. He received information via Facebook. He shared it with the authorities, and then they took it from there in terms of investigation."

Sharing information is great, but warnings such as these can have real-life consequences, as Click on Detroit detailed. A handyman who drives a white van to store all of his tools has been followed, questioned and harassed all due to a viral Facebook video of a van. 

For further information on these rumors and the threat of reporting unsubstantiated claims, read more on CNN and Newsweek.